Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)
HILDEGARD OF BINGEN
Hildegard of Bingen, the first German mystic, wrote profusely as a prophet, poet, dramatist, musician, physician, and political moralist. She was an extraordinary woman who exerted a tremendous temporal and spiritual influence on her time and who has been rediscovered since the 1960s.
Hildegard was born in Bockelheim, the diocese of Mainz, on the Nahe River. Her father, Hildebert, was a knight in the service of Count Meginhard of Spanheim. At six, she began to have religious visions that continued the rest of her life. At eight, she was entrusted to the care of Jutta, sister of Count Meginhard. The two lived in a small cottage adjoining the church abbey at Disibodenberg. A sickly child, Hildegard continued her education under Jutta, learning to read and sing Latin. At fifteen, she was clothed in the habit of a nun in Jutta's hermitage, a community following the Rule of St. Benedict. At thirty-eight, Hildegard became the abbess of the community.
Eventually, the archbishop of Mainz examined her visions with his theologians and ruled them divinely inspired, ordering Hildegard to record them in writing. From 1141 until 1151, she worked on her principal work, Scivias (May You Know, or Know the Ways ). In 1147, Pope Eugenius III and his commission examined her visions and also authorized her to write whatever the Holy Spirit inspired her to write. Her growing fame then caused Hildegard to transfer her convent from Disibodenberg to Rupertsberg, near Bingen, between 1147 and 1150. She continued living there until her death on September 17, 1179. She was buried in her convent church, where her relics remained until 1632, when the convent was destroyed by the Swedes and her relics moved to Eibingen.
A woman of an extraordinarily energetic and independent mind, Hildegard wrote voluminously. Scivias, the first of her three mystical works, develops her view on the universe, on the theory of macrocosm and microcosm, the structure of humans, birth, death, and the nature of the soul. It also treats the relations between God and humans in creation, the redemption, and the church. The last of the twenty-six visions of Scivias contains Ordo Virtutum, the earliest liturgical morality play.
Liber Vitae Meritorum (The Book of the Rewards of Life, 1158–1163) studies the weaknesses separating us from God. It is one of the most subtle, psychologically fascinating, and intense works ever written on the relationship of various sins to their corresponding virtues.
Liber Divinorum Operum Simplicis Hominis (The Book of the Divine Works of a Simple Man, 1163–1173), the third of Hildegard's mystical books, concerns itself with the unity of creation. Hildegard succeeds in synthesizing into one great whole her theological beliefs along with her knowledge of the elements of the universe and the structures within the human body. This work is often considered the epitome of science of her time.
Besides her three mystical books, Hildegard wrote a long physical treatise titled Physica: Subtilitatum Diversarum Naturarum Creaturarum (Physical Things: Of the Simplicities of Various Natural Creatures, 2001) and her book of medicine titled Causae et Curae (Causes and Cures, 1903). Although her theoretical knowledge of medicine seems crude today, large numbers of sick and suffering persons were brought to her for cures. A thriving clinic in Konstanz, Germany, practices Hildegard's remedies today.
In addition, Hildegard wrote Vita Sancti Disibodi (The Life of Saint Disibod ) and Vita Sancti Ruperti (The Life of Saint Rupert ). Her Solutiones Triginta Octo Quaestionum (Answers to Thirty-eight Questions ) comments on various theological and scriptural subjects. Her Explanatio Symboli Athanasii (Explanation of the Symbol of Saint Athanasius ) and Explanatio Regulae Sancti Benedicti (Explanation of the Rule of Saint Benedict ), written at the request of the Benedictine monastery of Huy in Belgium, are self-explanatory.
For the nuns of her convent, Hildegard wrote hymns and canticles—both words and music. She collected her songs into a cycle titled Symphonia Armonie Celestium Revelationum (The Symphony of the Harmony of Heavenly Revelations ). These approximately seventy songs were written for a wide range of liturgical celebrations.
Finally, Hildegard wrote letters to popes, cardinals, bishops, abbots, kings and emperors, monks and nuns, men and women of various social levels both in Germany and abroad. Some of her letters are more personal, but the majority are mystical treatises, prophecies, sermons, and strong exhortations concerning various corruptions. Hildegard's clear intelligence foresaw that the ecclesiastical and political abuses of her time would ultimately burst into flames in some event such as the eventual Reformation or the Thirty Years' War. Hildegard represented a legacy to her own times, and now has been rediscovered in ours.
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